Strategic Marketing at the Event - Signs and Posters


Did you know that there are actually people whose only job is creating signs for public direction - WayFinders. These are the people that create the signs that direct us through public places, retail businesses and over highways and byways. They help us find our way. No kidding, it’s a real job. These people create signs that save us from the embarrassment of walking through the wrong door or from driving off a dangerous cliff. We need signs to move us through open space and congested areas safely and efficiently. Directional and informative signs can also tease us and tempt us and even shame us into making a purchase. They give visual information that provokes a decision to buy or to walk on by and they are sorely underused in the charity auction arena.


Charity auctions are audible and visual events that transmit a tremendous amount of information in a record time. Carefully thought out signage relays information about the buying and selling activities offered during the event.  Signs put us at ease and help us interface with and connect with each other. Signs are a conversation with your guests.  They welcome people, express gratitude and recognition and guide and instruct. One well place sign can take the place of several volunteers and preserve valuable time for other important actions. Signs help people find the way without having to ask questions that begin with “Wheres the as in where’s the bathroom, where’s the coat check, where’s the bar…”  As an auctioneer, I like signs because they give people information that keeps them engaged and presell guests on upcoming profit centers. Buyers are more inclined to listen if they aren’t bombarded with too much noise that may draw them away from the sales activity.


I like to imagine an auction without any sound and design signs around all the profit centers. If you couldn’t speak to your guests, how would you get them where you wanted them and buying what is being sold.  This is an excellent exercise so give it a try.  View all surfaces as sign locations. These areas are blank slates for communication so use them to increase the auctions earning potential. Walls, table tops, chair backs, backdrops, stairs, escalators, sidewalks, columns, pedestals, credenzas and pathways and doors, even the bathroom stalls and walls are marketing and sales opportunities. Look for natural gazing spots to inform and direct guests throughout the evening. A gazing spot is the place the eye naturally falls to when standing in line, walking a pathway and entering a building and room. This means that a large banner over the checkout station may not be a natural gazing spot. And those little signs placed in front of check in can only be seen by the first person in line, so that is lousy placement. Any place that a short line might form needs to be tested for sign placement, so create a short line using volunteers and look around. Where do your eyes naturally fall. To the right, to the left, to an oddly placed architectural feature?  That’s the place to put the sign that makes your guests feel welcome and answers natural questions. Imagine that each guest will be standing for 1 -2 minutes. Where can I find a drink? Where is the silent auction? Is there a coat check? Can I get my parking ticket stamped?  Feature Sponsors & Advertisers in those aras. “Enjoy the No host Bar & Horderves during the Bank of America Silent Auction” or Bar Hosted by John Smith Chevrolet”, “Buy BenBridge Diamond Raffle Tickets Here”. Create a Coat Check sign with an arrow pointing to the location. Use adhesive footprints or stars on the floor leading guests directly to the silent auction and beverage area.


We can use signs to provoke an action and deliver a message.  What do you want your guests to do? What do you want them to know? For instance, as guests are arriving the messages are centered around guiding people to a specific spot, attracting attention to donors and donations, and recognizing volunteers and their contributions. As guests are leaving, signs are centered around recognizing guests, their contributions and assisting them in checking out and leaving with their purchases. Let me mention here, that it’s a good idea to send home a gift bag that includes a donation envelope, newsletter, brochure and a thank you gift of candy or a novelty.


Did you know that when people arrive at a social gathering they arrive with some confusion and worry? Every guest wants essentially the same information upon arrival and most people would rather read a sign with information than ask for information. If your guests can’t readily satisfy a question without asking, they may bypass an opportunity because the answer is hidden around the corner, behind bodies or diguised by stylish décor that looks cool and does nothing to inform or sell. Signs answer questions and maximize your guests mental space. A sign should stir interest and stimulate a decision. A well placed sign continues to ask guests to join in - participate -buy something. So, define each profit center using signs. Live Auction, Silent Auction, Raffles, Paddle Raise. Everyone should know exactly where to find each of these profit centers with out asking. Use secondary signage to deliver the balance of the message such as the times the silent auctions close, the price of the raffle tickets and prize offerings, and the definition of the need for the paddle raise. More than one sign may be needed with several placements in natural gazing spots.  


Paco Underhill invented the Science of Shopping and has a test for signs. He says “...I’ll make life for this sign as difficult as possible. I’ll put it on the floor, leaning against the wall, then I’ll take ten paces away and see how it looks. I’ll stand practically alongside it and see if it catches my eye. I’ll stride by it at my normal pace and see if it registers. I’ll turn down the lights. If the sign doesn’t work in an imperfect world, it doesn’t work. Believe me, real life is even tougher on signs than I am”.  I have my own version of Paco’s test. Determine the activity that the audience will be engaging in during the time period that you want the sign read. Are they standing in line? Are they searching for a profit center? Are people seated or standing or both? Are they looking in multiple directions at different times–Which is the case most of the evening and that includes during the live auction. Are they coming or going? What action do you want them to take? Make time to visit the auction venue when it is filled with guests. Make notes at how people move about and notice the natural gazing spots.


Auction gala’s are considered rather classy stylish events and in an attempt to avoid anything garish, planners use little to no signage and if they do it is often artsy, unreadable hence useless. Avoid fancy script and graphics small type and sameness. You can Color code the profit centers and use identifiable graphics and props. One of the most readable signs is simply black type and cream tone paper with plenty of white space around the lettering.


Consider that people take from 2-5 seconds to read a sign. Use a typeface of 14 points and raise it by 10 points per foot of viewing distance. The best sign has 2 or 3 words and can be read in an instant. AS people get closer more information can be revealed. Use a directional arrow when appropriate.  Begin and end the signage in the parking area. Welcome and guide arriving guests and thank and accommodate departing guests.